Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Kentucky Oaks Field Analysis

The Kentucky Derby (GI) garners far more attention than its sister race, the Kentucky Oaks (GI). Held on the Friday before the Derby, the "Lilies for the Fillies" features the best three-year-old Thoroughbreds fillies around. The 2013 field for the classic race is among the best group of fillies seen in years and should provide for a thrilling race that will beautifully commence the classic season for sophomore Thoroughbreds.

Last year's edition of the race saw jockey Rosie Napravnik avenge her narrow loss in the 2011 renewal with a victory aboard Believe You Can. With this triumph, the young rider became the first female jockey to win the historic race. In recent years, the race has produced many different types of finishes, from Rachel Alexandra's 20 1/4-length annihilation of her rivals in 2009 to Blind Luck's spine-tingling nose victory in 2010. With the brilliant field aligned for this year's running, the one hundred thirty-ninth Kentucky Oaks could be the Oaks of a lifetime.

Featured below are all of the fillies slated to run in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, along with descriptions of their pedigrees, racing records, final preparations, and my opinions of them. The fillies are simply listed in post position order.

1. SILSITA: Sired by champion Macho Uno and out of a multiple black-type-placed Wild Again mare, Silsita should have no difficulty winning at a mile and one-eighth.

Silsita narrowly won her debut at Calder last November before making her first two starts of 2013 in allowance optional claiming company at Gulfstream Park, finishing fourth and third. She then contested over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface for the Bourbonette Oaks (GIII), gamely winning by a nose.

With more than two weeks of training at Churchill under her belt, Silsita has certainly become acclimated to the track, but in her final work, she was clearly outworked by one of her stablemates, Unlimited Budget.

Although Silsita has the potential to run a big race, she seems to be facing too tough of competition here.

MIDNIGHT LUCKY: Although her sire, Midnight Lute, was a champion sprinter, he has already produced a nine-furlong winner from his first crop – which Midnight Lucky is a member of. Her dam line hints at speed but will be sufficient in allowing her to be successful at a mile and one-eighth.

A dominant winner of her debut earlier this year at Santa Anita, Midnight Lucky was again an easy winner in her second start, the Sunland Park Oaks – in which she set a new track record for a mile and one-sixteenth over a very fast track.

Midnight Lucky turned in one of the most talked-about works of the week between Oaks and Derby horses, going 59.60 for five furlongs in her second Churchill Downs breeze. Working in company with the graded stakes-placed ridgling Code West, the gray filly made him look inferior, easily outrunning him to complete the final quarter of her work in just over 22 seconds. It was clearly one of the most impressive final preparations from an Oaks or Derby horse.

Though this filly is very lightly raced and the level of her brilliance is unknown, she could certainly serve as one of the most competitive fillies in this field of talented females. She has obviously taken to the track well and is ready for the race of a lifetime. Read about Midnight Lucky in greater detail in my article “
Oaks Contender: Midnight Lucky.”

3. BEHOLDER: Although her sire, Henny Hughes, was a terrific sprinter, his immediate sire line has produced many talented distance horses. A half-sister to the grade one-winning sire Into Mischief, Beholder stems from the same tail female line as Kentucky Derby victor I'll Have Another.

Voted the 2012 Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Beholder formed a rivalry with Executiveprivelege, losing to that filly in her debut and in her third start, the Del Mar Debutante Stakes (GI). But after a dominant Santa Anita allowance win, Beholder got revenge when it counted most, defeating Executiveprivelege by a length in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI). Beginning her sophomore campaign with a runner-up effort in the Santa Ynez Stakes (GII), Beholder then captured a pair of consecutive grade ones, including the Santa Anita Oaks (GI).

Beholder’s final work for the Oaks did not take place at Churchill Downs, but rather her home track of Santa Anita, where she turned in a seven-furlong drill in 1:27.80. She has had time to gallop over the Louisville track and has appeared very comfortable in the mornings.

Beholder is among the classiest in this tough field and although she may appear to have distance limitations, her pedigree hints that she can carry her speed over nine furlongs. Read about Beholder in greater detail in my article “Oaks Contender: Beholder.”

Photo by Terri Cage

4. UNLIMITED BUDGET: This filly has already won at nine furlongs and her pedigree also supports her in the distance department. A daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Unlimited Budget is out of a stakes-placed daughter of Valid Appeal – a stallion that produced many nine furlong winners.

Heading into the Oaks with a flawless race record, Unlimited Budget has handled every test thrown in her direction perfectly. A graded stakes winner in New York as a two-year-old, Unlimited Budget won both of her graded stakes preps at the Fair Grounds this year.

In her final work for the Oaks, the Todd Pletcher trainee put away fellow Oaks entrant Silsita, coasting to a 59.60-second five-furlong breeze in her third work over Churchill Downs’ oval. She handled the track very well, seeming to be very comfortable with the surface.

This filly has not done anything wrong to date and shows no signs of breaking that pattern. Read about Unlimited Budget in greater detail in my article “Oaks Contender: Unlimited Budget.”

5. SEANEEN GIRL: A daughter of Spring at Last - a grade one winner at nine furlongs - and an Afternoon Deelites mare, Seaneen Girl stems from the same tail female line as the grade one-winning Farma Way.

A dominant winner of a maiden claiming event at Woodbine in her debut, Seaneen Girl returned to the claiming ranks after a poor finish in the Ontario Debutante Stakes. Even in the two claiming races she contested in after that effort, Seaneen Girl couldn't garner a win. Nonetheless, she returned to stakes company, finishing second in the Mazarine Stakes (GIII) prior to traveling to Churchill Downs, where she captured the Golden Rod Stakes (GII) as the longest shot in the field. Her only start to date as a three-year-old was a third-place performance in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) behind Unlimited Budget and Flashy Gray.

Seaneen Girl has had weeks of preparation over Churchill Downs’ dirt oval and in her final work for the Oaks, the small chestnut filly turned in a good half-mile breeze with Rosie Napravnik aboard.

The filly is very lightly raced this year due to a foot bruise, which could be worrisome, but she has trained somewhat well. However, she seems in over her head against this stellar group.

By the grade one-winning Majestic Warrior – a son of A.P. Indy – and out of a stakes-placed Catienus mare, Princess of Sylmar should successfully stretch out to nine furlongs, a distance she has already ran second at.

Beginning her career at Penn National, Princess of Sylmar won at second asking prior to shipping to Aqueduct, where she won three consecutive races by a combined 19 3/4 lengths, including the Busanda Stakes and Busher Stakes. Her final race before the Oaks resulted in a runner-up finish behind Close Hatches in the Gazelle Stakes (GII), in which she was bested by 3 1/4 lengths.

Princess of Sylmar has recorded two workouts at Churchill Downs and has appeared rather flat in these half-mile breezes, although her most recent work showed improvement from her first drill below the twin spires.

Although talented, Princess of Sylmar may be outclassed in this field.

A daughter of Storm Cat's son Pure Prize and a Key to the Mint mare, Pure Fun is bred for distance.

She began her career in maiden claiming company and didn't break her maiden until her fourth start, a one-mile maiden special weight at Kentucky Downs. Seventh in the Jessamine Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland in her subsequent start, Pure Fun turned in a pair of good allowance performances in Kentucky, including a 9 1/4-length victory in a one-mile event at Churchill Downs. Shipped west to Hollywood Park, Pure Fun won the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (GI) to close out her juvenile campaign. Third in the Bourbonette Stakes (GIII) at Turfway Park in her initial start as a three-year-old, Pure Fun then faced males in the Lexington Stakes (GIII), finishing seventh.

This Kenny McPeek hasn’t turned in an official work since before the Lexington, when she worked five furlongs at Keeneland. But she has galloped very well over the track, getting over Churchill’s dirt oval powerfully.

Pure Fun may be a grade one winner, but the others' talent certainly may outshine her, especially considering that the filly's confidence may be harmed by her poor performance last out. However, to her advantage is a previous win over Churchill Downs’ surface and an obvious affinity for it.

DREAMING OF JULIA: This filly is by Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) and Breeders' Cup Classic (GI, 10F) winner A.P. Indy, one of the most influential sires in recent years. Her dam is the multiple grade one-winning sprinter Dream Rush, thus allowing her to descend from the same tail female line as Hasty Matelda.

Dreaming of Julia was one of the most impressive juvenile maiden winners at Saratoga last summer (landing herself on my watch list) and followed up that win with a dominant victory in the Meadow Star Stakes at Belmont Park. Following a game victory in the Frizette Stakes (GI), the Todd Pletcher trainee was shipped west to Santa Anita Park for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), in which she suffered the first loss of her career, finishing third. Beginning her three-year-old campaign with a runner-up effort in the Davona Dale Stakes (GII), Dreaming of Julia turned in a monster performance in the Gulfstream Oaks (GII), demolishing her opponents by 21
3/4 lengths. Although the field behind her was small, it was a tough group of fillies, including Emollient – who would go on to win the Ashland Stakes (GI) by an ample margin.

The filly has had several weeks to become acclimated to Churchill Downs’ surface and in her most recent work, an easy 51-second half-mile breeze, Dreaming of Julia appeared very comfortable. She is not the most attractive mover, but neither was her sire and he was clearly an extraordinary racehorse.

The cross of speed and stamina on which Dreaming of Julia is bred on suggests that the nine-furlong journey of the Oaks should not be an issue for her and her breathtaking victory in the nine-furlong Gulfstream Oaks has already confirmed that. She has trained well up to the Oaks and has several weeks over Churchill’s tricky surface to her advantage. Considering she has faced perhaps the toughest competition of any other Oaks entrant and has showed the greatest brilliance of any of these fillies, Dreaming of Julia is my top selection for this tremendous race, though she is not the only incredibly gifted filly in the contest. Read about Dreaming of Julia in greater detail in my article “Oaks Contender: Dreaming of Julia.”

Dreaming of Julia
Photo by Terri Cage

9. ROSE TO GOLD: A filly I have followed since the early stages of her career, Rose to Gold is a daughter of a grade one-winning son of A.P. Indy in Friends Lake and out of an unraced Tabasco Cat mare. Her bloodlines imply that Rose to Gold should flourish with added distance.

This filly has had a unique career, having never competed outside of stakes company. Winner of a pair of stakes at Calder by a combined 26
1/2 lengths in the first two starts of her career, Rose to Gold gave the worst performance of her lifetime in her third start, the Alcibiades Stakes (GI) at Keeneland, in which she finished twelfth of fourteen. However, it wasn't a matter of being outclassed; she simply did not have an affinity for the synthetic surface. Culminating her juvenile year with a win in the Delta Downs Princess Stakes (GIII), the $1,400 bargain began 2013 with a runner-up effort in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Her two final starts before the Oaks resulted in two graded stakes victories at Oaklawn Park, which she captured by a total margin of 7 1/4 lengths.

With her jockey and Churchill Downs specialist Calvin Borel aboard, Rose to Gold’s final work was one of the most notable of the week. Going a half-mile in 47.80 seconds, Rose to Gold got over the track very well, exhibiting an obvious liking to Churchill’s surface.

She is among those that have displayed sheer brilliance and also turned in one of the most impressive works of the week. Rose to Gold may be considered an underdog by many, but I view her as one of the top contenders in this deep field.

Sired by young sire Flashy Bull, Flashy Gray was a $775,000 purchase at the 2012 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale as part of Dolphus Morrison’s dispersal. Flashy Bull was a grade one winner at nine furlongs and the sires that line this filly's dam line imply distance, including What a Pleasure, Hill Rise, Princequillo, and Johnstown.

After playing the role of runner-up in her debut at Keeneland, Flashy Gray dominated a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs by 10 ¼ lengths. Making her sophomore debut in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream, Flashy Gray easily defeated her rivals by 4 ¾ lengths.  Flashy Gray followed up these wins with a pair of runner-up finishes in the Honeybee Stakes (GIII) and Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).

Flashy Gray has put in one work at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Oaks, seeming to like the surface as she outworked her workmate to complete five furlongs in 1:01.

Flashy Gray's price will be inflated due to her losing her past two starts. However, the filly’s former owner, Dolphus Morrison, declared Flashy Gray to be “the best racehorse I’ve owned.” Morrison of course owned spectacular Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra. Difficult competition awaits Flashy Gray, but if she's as good as Morrison stated, she could surprise many. Furthermore, she has to her advantage a win over the track.

Yet another filly I have followed since her maiden triumph, Close Hatches is a daughter of young sire First Defence, a grade one-winning sprinter by Unbridled’s Song. This filly is out of a Storm Cat mare that is a direct descendant of Reine de Course mare and 1982 Broodmare of the Year Best in Show, who produced Kentucky Oaks winner Blush with Pride. Close Hatches is thus from the same family as the Belmont Stakes (GI)-winning siblings Jazil and Rags to Riches, as well as the champion Peeping Fawn. Therefore, this is the same tail female family as the great broodmare Better Than Honour.

A lightly raced filly, Close Hatches won her debut by 7 furlongs in a Gulfstream Park maiden special weight. Her second start came in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming at the same track, which the Bill Mott trainee won by 1
1/4 lengths under a hand-ride. Traveling to New York for the Gazelle Stakes (GII), Close Hatches captured her final prep race by 3 1/4 lengths.

Close Hatches, who trained at Churchill Downs as a two-year-old, has posted two works below the twin spires to prepare for the Oaks. Like her stablemate Flashy Gray, Close Hatches got over the track very well.

Close Hatches clearly doesn't know how to lose, but she will need to bring her A-game to win against a field of this caliber.

1 comment:

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